Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, February 22, 2015

First Sunday in Lent

First Sunday in Lent (B)

February 22, 2015
Text: Mark 1:9-15

            St. Mark paints a picture of stark contrasts in our Holy Gospel this morning.  First the beautiful Trinitarian picture of our Lord’s Baptism in the Jordan, the heavens torn open and the Spirit descending on Him as a dove (Mark 1:10), and the voice of the Father from heaven: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (v. 11; ESV).  But then a violent transition.  That beautiful dove, the symbol of peace, the Holy Spirit now filling our Lord Jesus to the brim, “immediately drove him out into the wilderness” (v. 12).  Drove Him out, cast Him out, the same Greek word used when Jesus casts out the evil spirits.  Threw Him out, you could say.  Immediately upon His Baptism, the Holy Spirit threw Jesus out into the wilderness, the place of nothingness, where the demons are said to dwell, the home of Satan.  Utterly alone except for the company of wild beasts, our Lord languishes for 40 days in the place of hunger and thirst, loneliness and desolation, death.  Why?  To be tempted.  To do battle with His archenemy, Satan.  To be tested.  To be faithful.  To be victorious where you, and Adam, your father, have not.  To love the Lord His God, His heavenly Father, with all His heart and soul and mind and strength (Mark 12:30; cf. Deut. 6:5).  To love His neighbor, love you, even more than Himself.  And to do it all in your place, for you, so that it counts for you, so that His victory is your victory.  “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15).  He wins the battle!  And the holy angels minister to Him (Mark 1:13).
            You are baptized into Christ.  You are clothed with Christ.  You are in Christ.  And so what happens to Christ, happens to you.  You are baptized, and the Spirit comes upon you, and God says that you are His beloved child, with whom He is well pleased.  But then immediately, violently, the Spirit throws you out into the wilderness of this fallen world.  He throws you out into the place of nothingness, of doubt and unbelief, of sin and sorrow and death.  This is where the evil spirits are said to dwell.  And they do.  You know it by experience.  You only have to turn on the evening news to see the evidence of their handiwork.  And it is not for nothing that Jesus calls Satan “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11).  It is a dangerous place, this wilderness, a place where you hunger and thirst for righteousness, a place that is often lonely and desolate (that’s why we need each other in the Church), a place where, on your own, you would die.  Spiritually.  And eternally.  You would die.  Why does this Spirit put you here?  This life, in this world, is the Spirit’s school of cross and trial.  You are here to be tempted.  You are here to do battle.  You are here to be tested.  You are here to be faithful.
            But there is a great difference between you and Jesus in this wilderness sojourn.  Jesus’ faithfulness is the faithfulness that counts for you.  And thank God for that, because you aren’t always faithful.  You fall.  You sin.  You are hit by Satan’s arrows.  Sometimes you even like it.  You’re perfectly happy to trade the bread of God’s holy Word for the bread of stones.  Repent.  But thank God, this isn’t that kind of test for you, to see if you’ll be faithful enough to be saved.  Jesus did all that already.  This time of trial and tribulation is different.  It is a time to crucify your flesh.  To drive you to despair of yourself, your righteousness, your abilities, your talent, your loveable-ness.  To make you realize that, in and of yourself, you are as empty and dead as the wilderness.  That apart from the Holy Spirit who is in you, you would be the dwelling place of evil spirits, under the rule of Satan.  You would be dead.  You would be, not a son of God, but a son of hell.
            The wilderness is not a pleasant place to be, but it has its good purpose.  The Holy Spirit has done this kind of thing before.  Remember Moses was exiled to the wilderness for 40 years after killing the Egyptian.  40 years spent in the middle of nowhere, tending the flocks of Jethro, marrying Jethro’s daughter, living the life of a Bedouin.  Moses was 80 when YHWH called him from the burning bush, and he had four decades of wilderness wandering still ahead of him.  For those 40 years Moses spent with his father-in-law Jethro, were just a trial run, a practice, a preparation, for the 40 years Moses would spend shepherding God’s flock, God’s holy Bride, the children of Israel, in the wilderness between Egypt and the Promised Land.  St. Paul tells us the people of God were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, when they went through the Red Sea as on dry ground (1 Cor. 10:2).  And then they immediately found themselves in the wilderness, the place of nothingness, the place of hunger and thirst, and, apart from God, the place of death.  They had to live by faith that God would bring them into the Promised Land, that God would be faithful to His Word, that His Word would keep them alive and bring them joy and blessing, that He would feed them with His manna.  It was all a picture of our life in the wilderness, as the Church, the people of God, the New Israel. 
            For just as Israel of old failed to be faithful in their wilderness wandering, so are we.  Just as they grumbled and looked back longingly to the flesh pots of Egypt, so we moan and complain about our lot in life and pine after the good old days of our slavery to sin.  Just as they fashioned idols and sat down to eat and drink before them, and rose up to play, so we run after other gods and follow after the pleasures of the flesh.  Just as they trembled and feared before their enemies and forgot that it is the LORD their God who fights for them and wins the victory, so we tremble and fear before the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh.  And we think we will never receive our inheritance in the Promised Land, because our enemies are too strong for us.  Of course, we’re half right.  They are too strong for us.  But our Lord is stronger.  He fights them.  He defeats them.  Our Holy Gospel is all about that.  Where Israel, where we, have failed in our wilderness journey, the Lord Jesus Christ has not.  He did not grumble or complain, but went willingly into the wilderness for us.  He did not eat and drink and rise up to play, but fasted and denied Himself, for us, living not by bread at all, but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of His Father.  He did not fear before His enemy, but triumphed over him for us, by the sword of His holy Word.  And now, baptized into Christ, His victory is our victory.  His faithfulness is our faithfulness.  And He does not leave us in the wilderness alone.  He is with us, as our Mighty Fortress, protecting us, providing for us, picking us up when we fall, speaking to us His Word of life, feeding us with His Manna, His true Body and Blood.  And the angels are ministering to us, surrounding us to keep us safe in body and soul. 
            Lent has this way of making this all so vivid for us.  Lent is about our baptismal life in this wilderness, our journey from the font to our Father in heaven, our battle in the meantime with Satan, a battle which has already been fought and won for us by the Lord’s faithfulness, by His cross and death, by His resurrection life.  Many of us give something up for Lent, but we don’t do it to impress God or impress others or make ourselves more righteous.  We do it to remind us how weak we are, how impossible it is even to give up chocolate, much less give up sin.  Some of us add a discipline for Lent, which is always good.  We certainly add the discipline of more services and more devotions.  But again, we don’t do it to impress God or anybody else.  And we don’t do it because it makes us that much more worthy of heaven.  No.  We do it because we know that man does not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Matt. 4:4).  Even as we fast, we feast on the gifts of our Lord Christ.  Lent gives us to see our cross in the shadow of His.  Your suffering, your sorrow, your sin, your death… it is all taken up into His.  Lent imposes the cross of Christ on our foreheads and on our hearts.  It is the banner of our Lord’s victory over the devil, that the serpent who once overcame by the tree of the garden, has now likewise by the tree of the cross been overcome (Proper Preface for Good Friday).  And after the cross, there is Easter and the empty tomb.  After the Lenten fast comes the Feast.  After the wilderness, there is the Promised Land.  Christ is risen.  Christ will raise you from the dead.  Blessed Lent.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.     

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany (B)

February 8, 2015
Text: Mark 1:29-39

            Jesus comes to preach.  That is what He tells His disciples after they track Him down at the end of our Holy Gospel.  They find Him in a desolate place, praying, communing with His heavenly Father, commending His ministry to God and asking for divine aid and counsel in His work.  Our Lord has demonstrated His Divine Nature as He healed and cast out demons late into the night.  But Jesus is also a man, and this work is taxing to His Human Nature.  So very early in the morning, while it is still dark, He departs to a desolate place to pray.  And note that for Jesus, weary as He is, prayer and communion with the Father is more important than sleep.  This is true rest.  Sabbath rest.  It is just what you need, too.  Well, the people don’t want Jesus to rest.  Everyone is looking for Him.  They want more miracles.  They want more healings.  They think that is why He came, to be some sort of a witch doctor, magically and mysteriously granting relief to those who suffer and healing for all that ails them.  So when Simon and those with him find Jesus and urge Him to come back to the house to treat more patients, Jesus says to them, “Let us go to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out” (Mark 1:38; ESV). 
            Jesus comes to preach.  The Son became Man comes to be the Word of God in the flesh (John 1:14).  Jesus is an incarnate sermon, if you will, the revelation of the Father’s love for lost humanity… His love for you.  The people gathered together at Simon and Andrew’s house had missed the whole point of the miracles.  To be sure, the people had much reason to rejoice in the healings and exorcisms.  There was real relief distributed, real wholeness granted.  But the miracles were not an end in themselves.  Have you ever thought about this?  Jesus didn’t heal everyone.  He heals a relatively lucky few on earth at the time of His earthly ministry.  It is not that He doesn’t have compassion on all of them, on all those who suffer, of all times and all places.  He certainly does.  And that compassion moves Him to perform healings.  But the true purpose of the healings, the exorcisms, and all the miracles, is to serve the preaching.  Jesus comes to preach.  The miracles are visible sermons, tangible sermons, action sermons on the part of our Lord.  They preach.  They say something about who He is and what He will finally do.  Jesus raises Peter’s mother-in-law by the hand and the fever leaves her (Mark 1:31).  And it is like a resurrection from the dead.  So completely has He healed her that she is invigorated to serve, to be the hostess for Jesus and His disciples (side note: On the Sabbath, no less!).  The people of the town, who witnessed Jesus cast out the unclean spirit in the Synagogue begin to show up at sundown, freed from the Sabbath regulations so they can walk to Peter’s house.  They bring to Him all those who are sick with various diseases or demon possessed, and Jesus heals their illnesses, silencing and casting out their demons (vv. 32-34).  What do these miracles preach?  They preach that our Lord has authority over sickness and suffering, authority to raise up and invigorate, authority over demons, to bind them and cast them out.  Jesus has authority over death, to snatch His people from its jaws.  And if He has authority over death, He has authority over the cause of death: Our sin.  These miracles preach who Jesus is.  He is God.  Only God could do what Jesus does.  These miracles preach what Jesus has come to accomplish and to give: eternal healing, eternal wholeness, eternal freedom from death, and the binding and casting out of Satan and his evil hoard.  This He will accomplish by His own suffering and death on the cross, and His triumphant resurrection from the grave. 
            Jesus comes to preach, because in preaching He delivers this true healing, this ultimate healing, accomplished by His saving work.  You see, preaching is God’s delivery system for the benefits of our Lord’s death and resurrection.  What He accomplished by His perfect life of love, His spotless fulfilling of God’s Law, by His cross and empty tomb, this He delivers to you and bestows upon you in the preaching, in what we call the Means of Grace.  That is to say, He delivers the forgiveness of sins, healing, restoration, life, and salvation, in the Holy Scriptures, the preaching of the Word, your Baptism, the Absolution, and the Supper of His Body and Blood.  Faith, then, is your empty hands receiving these free benefits from the Lord in His Means of Grace.  You can’t go back to the cross.  We don’t have it anymore, and even if we did, it would do us no good.  It would only be a relic, at best a fascinating historical artifact, at worst  an object of idolatry.  Jesus accomplished our salvation on the cross, but we don’t receive it there.  We receive it here, where Christ Himself is present, delivering our salvation in the preaching.  That is why He comes. 
            Now, we get confused, like the people in Capernaum.  We forget, or maybe we don’t even realize, that Jesus comes to preach.  And so we demand all sorts of other things from His Church.  We want the spectacular.  We want miracles.  We want dazzling demonstrations of divine power.  Or, at the very least, we want special effects.  We want comfortable seats, a comfortable experience, good coffee, entertaining worship, an inspiring and uplifting message, and songs the touch our hearts but aren’t too specific when it comes to doctrine, or God’s Law, or especially the cross.  We want glory.  Not a boring old sermon.  We want glory.  Not words and water, bread and wine.  We want glory.  Not the cross.  And so we miss it.  It is all too ordinary.  It is all too weak.  It is all too mundane.  Repent.  Thanks be to God, Jesus preaches anyway, in spite of us.  He preaches directly to you and to me in the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures, in the sometimes boring and often stumbling words of His called and ordained servant, in the visible and tangible sermons of Baptism and Supper.  He may not deliver what we want, but He ever and always delivers what we need.
            And here is what happens when Jesus preaches to you.  He heals you.  Not just temporarily, like those people in Capernaum.  They all eventually got sick again, and in the end, they died.  No, here is healing that endures, a wholeness sustained for all eternity.  For the preaching of Jesus delivers life, the life of the crucified and risen Lord.  And that marks you as one who will never die, because the eternal life you already possess in Jesus is the life you will go on living in heaven, and the life that will enliven your body on the Last Day.  As Jesus raised Peter’s mother-in-law from her sick bed, He will raise you from your coffin.  As Jesus healed those who came to Him with various diseases, He heals you from death.  As Jesus cast out the demons in Capernaum, so He delivers you from the devil and the condemnation you have merited by your sin.  He does it by taking it into Himself, taking it for you, taking it to the cross, and dying it to death.  And then He wakes from death, that He may awaken you.

            And in the meantime He does give you the very same gift He gave to the people of Capernaum.  You may not think about this very often, but every healing is from Jesus, even when you credit the doctor, the prescription drugs, or Mom’s chicken noodle soup.  To be sure, Jesus works through those ordinary and often mundane things to bring you healing, but anytime you’ve recovered from a common cold or a hangnail, that is from Jesus.  And you know that while your Lord works through the stuff of this world to bring you relief and physical healing, the real medicine you need is His preaching.  That is why you call your pastor when you are in the hospital, so that I can come and preach to you.  It is rather odd by human standards, when you think about it.  “I’m sick, so I better call my pastor for a sermon and Communion.”  But you know that is what you need.  And for everything else that ails you, you know that is what you need.  That is why you come to Church.  It is not the healthy who need a physician, but the sick (Mark 2:17).  Jesus comes to give the medicine of immortality to those who are mortally sick with sin.  Jesus comes to heal by preaching.  And so, if your body is racked with disease, if your heart is weak or the cancer is back, or even if you’re just a little under the weather, this is the place to be, to hear the healing Words of Jesus and receive His risen and living, healing and death-defeating Body and Blood in your mouth.  If you are grieving the loss of a loved one, if you are suffering loneliness or depression, if your marriage is in trouble or there is strife in the family, this is the place to be, where your Great Physician applies the salve of the Holy Gospel to your wounds.  If the devil is oppressing you and the demons are up to no good, if you know and feel the tremendous guilt of your sins, then this is the place to be, where Jesus binds and casts out the devil with a Word, and declares your sin forgiven, and you justified, righteous, spotless, and holy.  St. Ambrose said, “Because I always sin, I always need the medicine.”  So here you have it.  It may not be flashy.  It may not seem all that spectacular.  But here it is.  Jesus comes.  Jesus preaches.  You are healed.  You are whole.  Your sins are forgiven.  Depart in peace.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.      

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany (B)

February 1, 2015
Text: Mark 1:21-28

            The battle is closer to you than you think.  There is a battle being waged between God and the devil, the angels and the demons, and you are the contested territory.  It is a battle for your body, your mind, your heart, and your soul.  The devil knows his condemnation is final.  His defeat has already been accomplished in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  But he is not going down without a fight.  If God loves these precious humans so much that He gives His only Son to become one of them and suffer the shame and torture of the cross to save them, then devil is intent to drag as many people down to hell with him as he can.  It is the only vengeance he can take.  And if he can deceive Christians, if he can deceive you, and bring you down with him to the fire and sulfur of the bottomless pit of damnation, then that is the ultimate trophy.  So the battle rages.  It is all around you.  It is within you.  You are torn between two factions.  Your sinful nature is pulled toward the forces of hell, with whom the sympathies of your flesh lie.  But you are baptized into Christ, and the new creation that daily emerges from the baptismal waters and arises to live in Christ, is pulled toward Christ.  The devil hates this.  So he whispers his seductive temptations into your ear.  He shoots his deadly arrows directly at your heart and your mind.  This liar, and the father of lies, wields even truth as a weapon, so that he speaks enough truth that you think he is being rather reasonable, so that when he speaks a bent truth, you hardly notice.  You buy the lie.  You give yourself to it. You sin.  You don’t even realize the source is the evil one.  Because, for the most part, you live your life blissfully ignorant of the battle that is raging all around you and within you.  You go about your daily routine, unaware of the spiritual reality to which your eyes have been blinded, angels and demons, this world’s prince scowling fierce as he will, and Christ, the Valiant One, who fights for us, whom God Himself elected, who holds the field forever.  Beloved, you will not win this battle with any might of yours.  Only Christ can win.  He is your mighty fortress, your help and protection, who shields you under the pierced wings of His outstretched arms.  You are only safe when you dwell in His Word, in His Baptism, in His Supper.  Luther says that the devil “is a liar, to lead the heart astray from God’s Word and to blind it, so that you cannot feel your distress or come to Christ.  He is a murderer, who cannot bear to see you live one single hour.  If you could see how many knives, darts, and arrows are every moment aimed at you [Ephesians 6:16], you would be glad to come to the Sacrament as often as possible,”[1] to take refuge in Christ, the Savior.
            The people in the Synagogue, who otherwise were much more in tune with the spiritual realities of the world than you are, were nonetheless blissfully unaware that there was a man in their very midst possessed by an unclean spirit.  The guy is a Church member.  But somewhere along the line he has fallen into secret unbelief, the oppression, and eventually the possession of the demonic.  Outwardly, his life may very well have been quite respectable.  But inwardly he had given himself over to the darkness.  Now Jesus came on that particular Sabbath, teaching in the Capernaum synagogue.  (By the way, much of that Synagogue still stands.  You can Google “Capernaum Synagogue” and see images of this very building from our text, as well as a Church built over what is believed to be Peter’s house, where our Lord healed Peter’s mother-in-law. That is our Holy Gospel for next week [Mark 1:29-39].)  Now, the people in the Synagogue, just like you, are gathered for the Divine Service, mostly unaware of the battle that is raging.  But they are about to catch a glimpse.  Jesus is teaching them with authority, and not as their scribes (Mark 1:22).  And now He is about to give a demonstration of that authority.  The man with the unclean spirit bristles at the preaching of the Gospel.  It is sheer torture to him.  And the unclean spirit himself is tortured with the knowledge of who this is who is preaching.  This is the Christ.  This is Messiah.  This is the Savior of the world, and the Judge of the demons.  So the spirit, through the man, cries out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us?  I know who you are—the Holy One of God” (v. 24; ESV).  Now Jesus rebukes the demon, tells him to be silent.  Why?  It’s true, isn’t it?  Yes, but remember, demons are always liars.  They only wield the truth to further the lie.  This unclean spirit pegs the Lord Jesus, not as a Savior, but as a destroyer.  And if the witnesses believe that, the Gospel has been muted. 
            “Be silent, and come out of him!” Jesus commands (v. 25).  And the unclean spirit, making a great show of the whole thing, as unclean spirits are wont to do, convulses the man and cries out with a loud voice (v. 26).  You can almost hear the demonic shriek.  But he comes out.  He has to.  For that authority with which Jesus teaches the people, is a real authority.  It is the authority of God.  Jesus is God clothed in human flesh.  He is the Creator of the heavens and the earth, and all that is, visible and invisible.  He is the eternal Ruler of the universe.  And He is even the God of the devil.  When Jesus commands, the devil must obey.  The demons must depart.  The unclean spirits must flee.  The Lord has not come to destroy His people, but to save them, to save you, to deliver you from the powers of darkness, from the prince of this world, and the present evil age.
            Once again, the people are amazed.  A new thing has happened in their midst.  They question among themselves, “What is this?  A new teaching with authority!  He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him” (v. 27).  Indeed, He teaches with authority.  He has authority over unclean spirits.  That is what it means that Jesus is Lord.  The Lord is the One with the authority.  There is a new Lord in town.  This is the Lord who received the Holy Spirit at His Baptism in the Jordan, in whom the Holy Spirit dwells.  Where the Holy Spirit is, there is no room for unclean spirits.  Where the Lord speaks His Holy Words, deploying His Holy Spirit, every evil spirit must depart.  And that authority He has over the unclean spirits extends to every affliction that may plague you, beloved.  He has authority over your sin, both your sinful condition, and every sin you’ve ever committed.  He takes away your sin, and nails it in His flesh to the cross.  He speaks you forgiven, bespeaks you righteous, speaks His Spirit and life into you.  Death?  He has authority over it, including every symptom of death, every illness and injury, every ache and pain and disability.  Remember, He is risen.  And He will raise you on the Last Day with a body made whole and undefiled, fit for eternity.  Sorrow, heartache, depression?  He has authority over these, too.  When He brings you to your eternal consolation in heaven, God will wipe away every tear from your eyes.  Mental illness?  He renews your mind by His holy Word.  Persecution, war, violence?  He is your peace.  And though it may appear as though the enemies of the Church are triumphing in this world, in the end, the saints of God will reign with Christ in a new heavens and a new earth.
            So Jesus says to the unclean spirits that afflict you: “Be silent, and come out!”  We live in the midst of so much spiritual yuckiness, the filth of sexual immorality, selfishness, greed, murder, profanity, godlessness.  And we buy into some of that.  Repent.  But Jesus commands it all to go away.  He does not give us into the possession of the evil spirits.  They cannot win us.  Because Jesus already won in His cross and resurrection.  Jesus is the Lord God of Sabaoth, the Lord of the heavenly armies, and the devil is powerless against Him.  The serpent is outmatched.  The Lord is the Stronger One who binds the strong man (Mark 3:27).  The victory has been accomplished, and it is yours.  In the meantime, as the battle rages around you, you are safe in the shelter of your Savior.  He protects you.  He provides for you.  He comforts you.  He brings you here, to His mighty fortress, the holy Church, where you dwell with Him in safety.  Here, your Great Physician gives you the medicine of immortality, His holy Word and the Sacrament of His Body and Blood.  Here you have an up close and personal encounter with the Holy One of God.  He speaks.  The unclean spirits are cast out.  The Holy Spirit enters in.  And you belong to God.  Jesus has the authority to make it so.  And He has done it.  Praise be to Christ.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.     

[1] LC V:81-82 (Luther’s Large Catechism with Study Questions [St. Louis: Concordia, 2010) p. 153.